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Reyna Grande Education. (2012) 'The Distance Between Us A Memoir.'

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TOPIC FREQUENCY

Us 12, Mexico 7, U.s. 6, United States 5, Reyna 5, L.a. 4, Angela 3, Uc 1, Frank Mccourt 1, Garcia 1, Hernandez 1, Perm 1, United States Was 1, Us To L.a. 1, Clinton Administration 1, Us Soda 1, Hector 1, Alcapaco 1, Spanish 1, Vennist 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Reyna Grande  Education.  (2012)  
   'The Distance Between Us A Memoir.'  

    October 14, 2012
    8:00 - 8:30pm EDT  

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you said you thought my presentation was partisan. well i did say that the real watershed came under the democrats and it was under the clinton administration that we got out of the glass-steagall act which was the financial blow up that we had in wall street. democrats have gotten plenty of blame. it isn't all republicans. i'm not making a partisan argument. by making the argument that we've got to get down to the basic root of the problems and address them and work together. there's still republicans like to talk to and democrats i can't talk to. and, you know, it's not party. i think it was all caught up in party. we are in the middle of elections, so that's why we did it. but i can assure you that no matter who gets elected in november and no matter which way the congress goes, these problems are going to continue to be there and they are not going to get solved unless the
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public gets engaged. maybe we better leave it at that. thank you very much. [applause] .. >> guest: this was the way i grew up.
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it was a reference to the united states, but, to me, because i grew up in this hometown surrounded by mountains, and i didn't know where the united states was, to me, it was the other side of the mountains, and during that time, my parents were gone working here in the u.s.. i looked at the mountains and think my parents were over there, on the other side of those mountains. that was that to me. >> host: originally, where were you born? >> guest: in mexico, southern mexico in a little city that no one heard of, but when i mention alcapaco, everybody knows that. it was three hours from there. >> host: when did your parents come to the united states? how old were you? >> guest: my father came here in 1997 when i was two years old, and he send for my mother a few years later in 1980 when i
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was four and a half years old. >> host: when did you come to the united states? >> guest: i came to the united states in 198 # 5. >> host: how old were you? >> guest: in may of 1985, nine and a half going on ten. >> host: what can you tell us about coming to the united states? what was your trek? >> guest: well, i had been separated from my father for eight years so when he returned to mexico in 1985, we convinced him to bring us back here. he was not coming back to mexico, and we didn't want anymore time separated from him. my father didn't want to bring me because i was nine and a half, and he thought i couldn't make it across the border because we had to run across illegally. i begged him to bring me here, and we took a bus from mexico city. >> host: right on the border. >> guest: right, and it was a
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very long two day bus ride because i had rarely been in in kind of cars or public transportation, and i know i got car sick many, many times along the way, but when we got to the border, my father hired a smuggler to bring us across, and -- >> host: what do you remember about that experience >> guest: well, what i remember is how much walking there was, and i remember having a lot of guilt because my father was right. you know, i was too little to make that kind of crossing, and i would get tired and complain about the walking and the fact i was thirsty or hungry and tired. my father carried me alot of times on his back, and we got caught the first two time by border patrol. i felt this immense guilt, you know, because i thought it was my fault we had gotten caught, and then the third time -- >> host: what happens when you get caught? >> guest: well, when we got
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caught, we got loaded up into a van with everybody else who was caught, and then we're taken to the border patrol offices, and i don't remember a whole lot because we were children. you know, we weren't really talked to my border patrol. they would take my father into an office and talk to him, and i remember just waiting for him in the hallway, and the border patrol, the people were nice to us, and they even offered to get us a soda. they brought us soda while we waited for our dad. it was a mixed feeling where, you know, we were treated very kindly by border patrol, but at the same time knowing they were keeping us from crossing and from being able to have a chance at having our father back in our lives. >> host: reyna, the third time? >> guest: the third time we crossed the border was very
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scary because my father decided to try it in the dead of night hoping that the darkness would protect us and help us to cross. it was right. it was pitch black, couldn't see where we were going, and a lot of times we trippedded on rocks and stumbling. what i remember most was the helicopter, and there was a helicopter that came by with the search light, and we were running for our lives, crawled under the bushes, and i remember the beam of the light fell on my shoe, and i was praying so hard that the people up there in the cockpit had not seen me, and luckily, they didn't. we made it across. >> host: where did you spend the first night? >> guest: well, the first night, by the time we made it across the border, it was dawn. we walked to the second house,
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and he was responsible for driving us to l.a., and he made us lie down in the backseat, and he wouldn't let us sit up because we could get pulled over by border patrol, so my siblings and i spent the whole car ride basically lying down, and it was not until we got, like, in santa ana when he said, okay, you can get up now, and so that -- you know, just seeing all of the things outside the window was so amazing, like, -- like, i remember all the palm trees. in my hometown, we didn't have palm trees, and just the streets that never seemed to end and the buildings seemed to reach the sky. it was just amazing, just really amazing. expwhrs where did -- >> host: where did you live in l.a. when you got here? >> guest: in highland park in northeast los angeles, and it was predominantly a latino community.
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>> host: mostly illegal? >> guest: i think it was a combination, yeah, there were a lot of immigrant families, but, you know, there were also the legal and illegal families. >> host: how did the legals view the illegals? >> guest: i'm not too sure about that because as a child, i don't think i was too aware of that kind of response from the adults, but what i do remember the most is being shocked when i got to school that most of the kids in my classroom were dark skin, and they looked just like me and had names like garcia and hernandez, and they could speak a language i couldn't speak. that was shocking to me because they looked exactly like me, and, yet, they weren't. i would say that was probably the first time i was really
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aware of the fact that they were latinos, but they were different from me. >> host: you were in esl classes? english as a second language classes? >> guest: yeah. >> host: was that a second class citizen type thing? being in that class? >> guest: definitely, being an esl student, that's who you are and that's the way people treat you, like an outsider, and it -- definitely there's a sense of separation because the kids who speak english hung out in their own circles and the esl kids hung out near the esl classroom, and i do remember, like, wanting to fit in, but not being able to because i was an esl student, but i worked very hard at trying to finish my esl classes and get out of that program so by the
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time i was in 8th grade, i was enrolled in regular 8th grade english. >> host: reyna, there's a picture we'll show on the air now of you with a sax phone. tell us that story. >> guest: the saxaphone was something i discovered at burbank junior high school in 7th grade. my counselor enrolled me in band, and it was not something that i chose, but they put me there. it was an elective, which i didn't elect, but i was so lucky to have been put in that class because when i walked in there and the teacher said well which strewment do you want to play? at first, i thought i had to paid for them. i asked how much does it cost. he said it doesn't cost you anything. it was like the whole world opened up to me, and i got to choose whatever instrument i wanted, and i saw the saxaphone
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and it was beautiful and that's what i wanted. >> host: do you play it today? >> guest: i don't play anymore, and i have not since i graduated from pasadena city college because i never owned my own sax, and when i went to uc to study, they didn't have marching band so i didn't have anything to join, and then i discovered other things. you know, i got into dance, got into videos, got into, like, all of the other things that i was doing, and i missed the sax and missed playing. a teacher pulled me aside saying, reyna, it's good you are creative and love to explore and learn new things, but you have to choose one thing to focus on because otherwise you'll be a jack of all trades, and i went home that day, and i thought what is it that i can't live
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without? that's when i decided writing was the one thing i couldn't live without. i gave up everything else, and i just focused on my writing. >> host: well, you are an award winning novelist, "across hundred mountains" won an award in 2007, "dancing with butterflies" won an award in 2010, and this was the first nonfiction, this memoir. this is very personal. >> guest: it is extremely personal, yes. that's the only way i know how to write, and even with my fiction, even though it is fiction, it's also inspired by personal experiences, and with the memoir, you know, there were many times when i was afraid to go there because it was extremely perm, and i was not just writing about myself, but my family, about my parents, and there were many times i felt
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that i was writing things that i shouldn't, but then i felt that if i was going to write a memoir, i needed to be completely honest with the story, and to turn my pain and fear into my strengths instead of them being my weaknesses. >> host: reyna, did you write this originally in english or spanish? >> guest: yes, i always write in english first, but when i got to this country, i got so excited about learning english, i neglected my native tongue. for many, many years all i did was eat and breathe english, that by the time i got to college, i was a writing tutor and tutoring native english students and teaching them how to write better english, but
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then i got exposed to spanish for spanish speakers, and then i took those classes saying i was going to reclaim my native tongue. i write in english because it's so natural to me that i don't have to think about the language, the vocabulary as i write, but when i tried to write in spanish, i i have to pick up the dictionary every single minute, and that pulls me out of the story because i have to think about the vocabulary so as a compromise, i write everything in english, and then i do my own translations so i translated "across a hundred mountains myself," and "a dance between us" will be published in spanish next year, and i did the translation also. >> host: do your novels sell well in the spanish language? >> guest: not as well as in
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english. i think that's the same for here that the spanish books don't sell like english books. i think part of that is because, you know, people can -- the readers for spanish books can afford to buy a book and they don't have access to the books. you know, especially in low income communities, there's no bookstores anywhere, and i think it's hard for them to really get access to the books. >> host: we're talking with reyna grande with her memoir calledded "the dance between us," a memoir. reyna, tell us the lice story. >> guest: the lice story? you mean the care seen story? >> host: the lice, you went to school, and they did a sanitation check on you. >> guest: oh, okay, yeah.
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when i came to the elementary in 5th grade, one day the nurse showed up, and the teaches said, oh, she's come to inspect all the kids for lice. i was so shocked because i could understand if that happened in mexico because we all had lice. we were all poor kids coming to school barefoot and dirty, and we all had lice, but in l.a. i just didn't expect there to be lice, and for a second there i thought that maybe they had crossed a border illegally like i had, and, yeah, and i got inspected, and it turned out that i had lice, and i was so afraid to go home and tell that to my dad because i didn't want him to think that i was still the dirty little girl he had left behind in mexico, and i thought he was going to beat me as well because that was his
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favorite way of disciplining us, and it turned out that my father was not angry at me, and he didn't blame me, and he didn't beat me, and it was really a very beautiful moment because he took me out to the yard, and he looked for lice, and he cleaned out my hair spending, like, two hours looking through my hair, looking for lice, and he was so gentle when he did it that it was just, like, such a painfully beautiful moment for me, and then he was telling me stories about when i was a baby that, of course, i didn't remember, but it was before he came to the u.s., before he e left me in mexico, he told me that every time he would come home for lunch during his break, i would be waiting outside with a bowl, and i would tell him, you know, to give him a bath. i wouldn't let anybody bathe me except for him. every day, he would come and
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basically spend his whole lunch hour giving me a bath rather than eating, and he said i wouldn't have it any other way. when he told me that, like, i just, i don't know. i thought it was such a beautiful moment i got to share with him. >> host: reyna, that's one of the few in the book that's tender and beautiful about your father. >> guest: yes, yes. my father was a very complicated man, you know, and he was suffering from alcoholism and he was suffering, i think, also from a bad upbringing. his parents were very abusive towards him, and unfortunately, he repeated the same cycle with us, but as i was writing the memoir, even though i was writing about the very hard, painful moments that i spent with him and suffering from abuse, i also got a chance to revisit all of the happy memories and one of the things
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that i hold most dear is that my father taught me to value education, and he was such a tyrant about it, and he threatened to send me back to mexico if i didn't do good in school. >> host: was that scary? >> guest: i really believed him. i thought he would do it. >> host: you didn't want to go back? >> guest: i didn't want to go back, and i wanted to make him proud. another thing was because i begged him to bring me, i felt i owed him that. i nevermented my father to say i shouldn't -- never wanted my father to say i shouldn't have brought you. it was always motivating me to do well in school, to do all great things he wanted me to do because i didn't want to hear that ever from my dad, and he never said that to me. he didn't.
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yeah, my dad -- and as i was writing the book, i really wanted to make sure that he didn't come across as the villain in the story. you know, i really wanted to give him his humanity because he had some really great things, my dad, but he was also dealing with a lot of difficulties that up fortunately affected our relationship. >> host: you tell the story in here how you wanted to go to church sunday, and he held up a budweser saying this is my god. >>when did he die? >> guest: he died last year of liver cancer, and he gave up drinking in the late 1990s, but he came very religious. he was a 7th day add vennist,
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but he never got himself checked, and then a year and a half ago when he went to the doctor, they told him he had liver cancer, and he really held on to the hope that he would get better, that he would get a transplant at some point, and he just never came out of the hospital. >> host: did his sobering up change your relationship? >> guest: not too much, because by the time he sobberred up, things had gotten way too bad, and even though he suberred up, he was still very distant. he traded one obsession for another. you know, he went from being an alcoholic, obsessed with alcohol, to being this religious fanatic, and i remember a lot of times that my siblings and i would invite him over to the family gathering. he wouldn't come because he had to be at church, and he always had to be at church, and we
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always felt like we lose either way, you know? he could be alcoholic or religious, and we'll lose anyway because he'll never make us his priority, and i remember when i got married, he was going to walk me down the aisle, and he was looking at the clock saying what time is this wedding going to start? i have to go to my church, hurry up. i just felt so hurt because it was, like, i only get married once here, you know? your church will always be there. he kept looking at his clock, and then we were done with the ceremony, and he, like, took off right after that. he stayed for the reception for, like, a little bit, but i felt so horrible that whole time thinking that i'm never going to be more important to my father than other things, and it really hurt me a lot. >> host: where does your
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mother figure in the story? >> guest: never hardly talk about my mother. i have a lot of issues with my mom, and anybody who reads the memoir will know why, but my mother, she's still alive, still in l.a.. she lives about 20 minutes away from me, and it's. , -- actually, now that i've become a writer and i have to travel a lot, i have to say that that has, in a way, helped me to have a better relationship with her because she, like, right now that i'm here, she's with my children, you know, and she comes over, and takes care of them. she really tried to help me out whenever she can, and then also it has really helped me to understand her more, like, having my own children because i can understand now what it's like to be torn between being a mother and being a woman with her own dreams and aspirations,
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and every time i have to leave my house and my daughter asks me hoping i'm going -- how long i'm going to be gone, i remember my mother and how i asked her how long she's going to be gone, and i really do understand, you know, how hard it is to be torn in two and to do right by your kids, and at the same time, go off into the world to pursue your own dreams so i have a better relationship with my mother, but there's still an emotional distance, and i think there will always been an emotional distance. >> host: because sometimes your mother would be gone for years. she came to the u.s., and you didn't even know it. >> guest: right. you know, my mother was not changed a whole lot. she still is like that in a way, you know, where she does things
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and we don't fit into the equation sometimes and it's been a struggle to try to get her to be more motherly, but i think at this point we've come to accept that's the way she is, and we just take her as she is, and i think that it helps because then we're not disappointed. i hope she could be a better grandmother, and i know people change, and i know my good grandmother. my mother says she was not a great mother to her, but, to us, she was the most wonderful grandmother in the world so i'm hoping that's the way my children feel for her as well, that she's, you know, an awesome grandmother, and that's all i want, you know, my kids to have a good relationship with her. >> reporter: has your --
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>> host: has your mother read the book, or does she know what's in it? >> guest: she was not been able to read the book because it's in english, and my mother does not speak english. she knows somewhat what's in it because i said it's a story of my childhood and growing up in the u.s., and i where about you, about dad, but i don't think my mother really understands what -- how i saw her as a daughter, and how her actions determined my childhood, you know, and how my childhood was really defined by her absence. i don't think she understands that. i am curious to see what she's going to say when the spanish version comes out. yeah. >> host: the distance between
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us, has anyone compared to -- when i read it, i thought about "angela's ashes," frank mccourt's book. >> guest: yes. hector who writes the review for "the l.a. times" that's what he compared it to in the review. i was beyond honored to be in the same sans as "angela's ashes" because that's a wonderful book, and to say this is that of the mexican immigrant experience, i was just really thrilled. there are similarities, you know. i mean, we both talk about poverty, about the many -- about our relationships with our parents, with just struggling to overcome, you know, all of the obstacles, and being able to go above and beyond what we thought
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we ever could so there are many similarities, although, i think, you know, one of the best things about "angela's ashes" is that there's so much humor that balances all that depressing stuff he writing about, and i'm not very humorous unfortunately. i would love to write more humor in my work, but i write from a very deep place that has mostly pain and sadness, and that's where my writing comes from, and i was thinking, you know -- i was thinking about one of my idols, and i was thinking how similar we are in that way because she also paints it from a place of pain, and that's the way i write, and when i'm happy,
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i cannot write when i'm happy. i told my husband that because he's so wonderful. you have to make my miserable because i'm too happy, you know? i'm too happy here. sometimes it is hard to write when i feel good. >> host: do you think your experience coming across the border, growing up the way you did as an illegal immigrant, is it a common experience do you think? >> guest: it's definitely very common, especially -- i mean, like my experience of being a child left behind, being separated from my parents, and then brought here to the u.s. as a child by my parents, it's very common. i mean, when i was -- when i was researching this topic, i learned that 80% of the latin american children in u.s. schools get separated from a parent in the process of migration so, i mean, that's a whole lot of kids that are being separated from parents who are